Faust

By Isis Wozniakowska (California State University in Florence)

While I never did get the chance to finish Goethe’s play for Faust, I do have a familiarity with the story of it as well as the English play version from the 16th century. At the very least the first half of the opera is accurate to the original. The main discrepancy is that the opera focuses a lot more on the woman that Faust has a love affair with in the first part of Goethe’s play. Though, with the operas I’ve seen and studied by this point I can see why that change would be made. There is a lot of stress on the leading lady and especially on love in operas. Lack of accuracy aside, it was an interesting interpretation of the original text.

This opera really shined in its extravagance. I have to say I’ve seen better operas in terms of storyline and music. This one wasn’t bad at all but it definitely is not what I would call a top tier opera. However, as a performance it was fantastic. This opera had one of the most elaborate sets I had even seen, requiring no less than four full set changes. There was a three-layer curtain set-up for when there was need of transparency, there were fully usable side theater balconies and even a two story building for Marguerite’s apartment. The costumes were also fantastic as well, changing around a lot more often than the usual opera. But the greatest part about the opera was the dance sequences. The second act had what might as well have been a 16th century strip club with dancers doing the traditional French can-can and the second half of the opera began with a ballet sequence lasting at least 10 minutes. Thematically, they both fit the storyline, as well. There was no narrative dissonance created by the dance, and they even were strange enough to fit the really disquieting mood of the rest of the opera. The second dance was the representation of the famous Walpurgisnacht (the Witches Night) so from that alone you can tell how the ballet turns into something a lot less graceful.

Honestly if I had to classify this opera I’d say it qualifies more as a musical or as a series of performing arts spectacles. The acting and set were far more important than what I usually see and the singing seemed in a way downplayed by all the other crazy things going on in the background or in-between the parts of story progress. Perhaps that is more akin of the French tradition, as I did read afterward that originally it was denied for being not flashy enough for the Paris opera so the crazy Witch ballet scene was added, but it does give it a certain uniqueness. At times it’s a little hard to follow with the addition of Marguerite’s story being so prominent but at the very least every character is clearly defined, and the show is just a marvel to watch. Ultimately, not one of my favorite operas necessarily but it’s a show I won’t soon forget seeing, and for all the right reasons.

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